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Wells Fargo's Big Idea: Shrinking Branch Office

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Can neighborhood bank branch offices works smarter, and not harder?

Oh, and can they work smaller, too?

Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) aims to find out starting this month. The San Francisco banking giant opened a branch Monday in Washington, D.C., that is one-third the size of the usual and comes well-stocked with such features as mobile banking, new ATMs and image-based bank deposits.

Wells Fargo says its new branch office is only 1,000 square feet -- well below the company's usual 3,000 to 4,000 per branch.

Bank executives call it the first in a line of offices catering to what consumers want in a banking market that is turning toward mobile banking and advanced technology banking services.

"With this new store concept, we'll be able to offer person-to-person sales and service along with leading banking technology in settings that previously would have discouraged us from building a store," says Jonathan Velline, director of Wells Fargo's ATM banking and store strategy division. "Stores are central to our strategy of providing excellent service and meeting our customers' financial needs. This new neighborhood bank concept complements our traditional stores to help us bring the Wells Fargo store experience to more customers."

The branch's large-screen ATMs has software that will anticipate what a customer wants to do, the bank says, as well as dispense different levels of currency -- including $1, $5 and $100 bills. The bank will also offer free wireless hotspots that enable customers to access their bank accounts on the premises.

Wells Fargo expects to roll out versions of the bank branch in other markets, tweaking and changing the concept on the fly.

"We expect to evolve the concept as we receive feedback from the new store," Velline said. "We believe in using customer feedback to 'test and learn' new products, technologies and services as we seek to continuously provide leading banking experience that meets all our customers' financial needs."

Wells Fargo isn't the only bank changing the face of the local bank branch. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citibank (C) also offer neighborhood bank branches with mobile banking services and self-serve, interactive kiosks that allow customers to handle banking needs without a service representative.

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